BOSTON (CBS) — The Houston Texans finished the 2016 regular season in first place in total defense, and they did it while playing most of the season with three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt on the shelf. How is that possible? There’s a case to be made that the defense is actually better off as a unit without Watt on the field.
That’s what Albert Breer of The MMQB discussed with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Friday. The fact that the Texans have played so great without Watt isn’t so much a reflection on Watt as a player, as he is clearly one of the most dominant players in the National Football League when healthy. It’s more an issue that Watt’s talent is so great that the defensive scheme almost demands to be catered toward him.
Breer believes that some Texans players feel that way themselves.
“There are some players there that feel like, because J.J. sometimes plays outside the scheme and sometimes has to have things set up a certain way to get the best out of him, that they’re all better collectively … when he’s not in there,” said Breer. “The way the defense is constructed [without Watt], it sets up so if everybody is doing a little bit then you get a lot out of everybody.”
Breer likened the Texans’ defensive improvement without Watt to the Patriots getting better on offense after they traded Randy Moss in 2010, or the Detroit Lions’ offensive improvement after the retirement of former All-Pro wideout Calvin Johnson. The singular dominant talent can often take away from the rest of the group – and the coaches fall into the trap.
“I think sometimes there’s this effect … a coach gets a talent like that – like a Randy Moss, like a J.J. Watt, like a Calvin Johnson – and it’s almost like you have this responsibility to get the most out of that player,” said Breer. “It’s almost like you have to, because you’ve got this guy, because he’s being paid a certain amount, because he’s got this athleticism, you have to do some things that maybe you wouldn’t do otherwise to get the most out of that individual player.
“I know sometimes coaches would rather have 11 very good players than one incredible player and a bunch of guys who have to do certain things to accommodate that one guy.”
Of course, it helps the Texans that they have former No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, who has emerged as a game-changing talent on the defensive line in Watt’s absence. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus was also a second team All-Pro selection in 2016. But Breer noted that they also improved this season because of a guy like Watt making his teammates work harder to get to his level.
“You look at guys like Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Maybe they’re playing better without Watt in there, but part of the reason they’re as good as they are is because Watt set the bar so high for everybody else,” he said.
Breer also touched upon Watt’s presence on the field for the Texans despite being injured and the likelihood of Josh McDaniels possibly joining the San Francisco 49ers. Listen to the full podcast below: